There is a mis-editorial in today’s Times claiming that early, mail-in voting is causing frustration in several municipal elections in Pinellas County: Some candidates were surprised, too. Local election campaigns don’t typically kick into high gear until about six weeks before Election Day. But in mid January candidates started hearing from residents who had ballots and were frustrated that they had seen no information about the people running for office. Candidates scrambled to try to connect with those voters, and in some cases had to order more campaign materials — and incur extra costs — for a campaign season that grew by weeks. “I’m sorry but if the only frustration with Supervisor of Election Deborah Clark’s promotion of voting by mail is with candidates caught off guard by early balloting, then spare me the hand-wringing. Serious candidates for local office should hire political consultants and staff knowledgeable enough to help prepare them for the accelerated election calendar.
As for voters who cast their ballot early, that’s their prereogative and to assume that they will be uninformed when doing so, is the typical kind of elitist thinking that believes voters are too stupid to make the right decision. After all, no one’s forcing them to turn in their ballots early. In fact, in my experience, early voters are usually the most passionate about current political events. Remember, they proactively sought out the opportunity to vote early, so why assume the worst?
I once had these similar concerns about early voting when I wrote this op-ed for the Tallahassee Democrat FOUR YEARS AGO: “Absentee voting is dramatically changing the nature of elections – and not necessarily for the better. Campaigns must begin earlier and spend more time and money to “track” absentee ballot requestors. As an example, each county’s election supervisor typically produces for campaign managers a daily list of the voters who request an absentee ballot. The names on these lists are quickly input into databases, so that each receives a first-class mailing, a candidate visit or telephone calls. Obviously, this is an expensive operation. In fact, in the campaigns I’ve worked for, the tracking program described here is often the second-highest expense behind television airtime. When it comes down to it, identifying absentee voting by that name is a sham.”
Some candidates got ahead of the curve and have been pushing their supporters to vote early. Now the participation in early voting is overwhelming.
Just look at the overwheling response early voting has had already. The Supervisor’s office posts a running tab of how many ballots have been turned in. Across the county, OVERALL turnout is already at 25% — a number much higher than previous turnout figures. So turnout is up, voter participation is increasing and candidates have to run fuller, more expanded campaigns that cannot rely on last-minute negative attacks, all the while decreasing the pressure and financial burden on the SOE’s office. And this is bad for democracy?